Something that has come up for me a lot over the past week is the concept of goals and the setting of goals. It seems almost a given that at the beginning of every year, there exists this expectation for us to set goals. In life, setting goals is important, as they can provide some form of direction and initial motivation. However, very often the setting of goals at the beginning of each year can feel forced and superficial. In fact, I feel that these ‘new year goals’ tend to actually focus on the superficial.
I have always experienced a lot of resistance towards setting goals at the beginning of each year. As in, sitting down with a pen and paper and writing out a list of goals for that year. Reflecting on this, I recognise that a big part of it could be attributed to my rebellious side, resisting to sit down and write down goals just because everyone else was doing it. Another reason I tend to avoid embracing this goal-setting fad, is because I tend to reason to myself that if something was not a goal for me on the night of the 31st of Dec, then what on earth makes me think that this “new goal” will suddenly become a priority on the 1st of Jan? I am also tend to be a realist, with a stronger lean towards optimism, and therefore, I know that a list of goals can look pretty and impressive, but the actual work that goes into achieving goals is really significant. Even for a highly conscientious individual like me, setting out to achieve 5 broadly stated goals at once would be a highway to failure. If you are really going to set goals, they need to be intentional, highly specific, and measurable.
Nevertheless, this inclination we have to set goals at the beginning of each year fascinates me. According to psychology, this tendency for us to set goals at the beginning of the year can be explained using two psychological principles:
- The Fresh Start Effect, which refers to us setting goals based on a clear demarcation point in time, such as the new year. For us, this creates a psychological separation from the past. This “fresh start effect” makes individuals more motivated to set new goals and to actually start making positive changes towards these goals.
- Temporal Landmarks is another principle, which refers to a specific point in time that act as mental marker for new beginnings. The beginning of a year serves as a prominent temporal landmark, prompting people to reflect on their lives and set new goals.
I would argue there may be a third principle at play, I call this the “Time Availability Illusion”. In today’s modern, fast-paced life, we tend to set goals at the beginning of a new year because we somehow just find the time between this transition period of end Dec and beginning January to reflect on life. Somehow we feel ‘granted’ this time to reflect and set goals, whereas during the rest of year we tend to feel like taking this time is a luxury.
However, we cannot discount that having a North star to guide our days, months, and year is important. Why? Well, just as sailors used to navigate treacherous waters using the unwavering light of the North star (before lovey tech arrived), having a North star for the direction of your life provides an unchanging beacon in the ever-shifting seas of life.
So, what on earth is this North star for us? I am glad you asked!
Your North star represents your core values, driven by that internalised purpose. To this extent, your core values serve as the constant referencing point, helping you stay on course even when life starts to feel very uncertain and go off course. Just as a sailor might encounter storms, you too will encounter challenges in life. Being human is f…, I mean, bloody hard! It is always filled with obstacles and unexpected detours. So, having your North star ensures that, despite the rough seas, you will remain aligned with your authentic life.
Furthermore, your North star also acts as a compass for when you need to make big decisions, keeping you aligned with what truly matters to you. The amount of choices and distractions we are faced with on a daily basis is unprecedented, and it is easy for us to get distracted and go astray. In this instance, your core values act as a filter through which you can evaluate paths and opportunities. They remind you of your long-term vision, steering you away from short-term gratifications towards long-term reward and fulfilment.
Another key reason for having clarity on your values is because they are a key driver to procrastination. Yes, you read correctly, procrastination! If there exists a big discrepancy between what you are doing and what your values are, then you will suffer from unexplained procrastination.
So, with 2024 rolling in, if you have to set a goal, maybe set the goal of reflecting on your core values. If you know what these values are, then write them down and ask yourself if they are still the same? Have you been making choices that are in alignment with your values? What goals can you set to live more intentionally and in alignment with these values?
If you have no idea what your core values are, well that is arguably a pivotal goal for 2024, as …
your values will direct your actions (consciously or unconsciously) and your actions will shape the course of your life!
No idea how to start discovering your values? No fear, Es is here!
I have a template I tend to use with my coaching clients and patients, so if you want to use this framework, simply click here to sign up and receive this free resource. You will be able to download the pdf straight after. If you find it helpful at all, why not share it with someone you think may benefit from it too?
Till next time!